Calm waters … lake near the Buerbreen glacier, Norway. Photograph: Getty Images
Winnig tip: Buerbreen glacier, Norway
Looking for a walk to complete the day before tackling the mammoth Trolltunga hike in April, we decided on the trail to Buerbreen glacier. The starting point was a 20-minute drive from our base in Odda. The walk was brilliant: three hours of streams, rickety-looking bridges, ropes and scrambling brought us to the glacier. With the added beauty of having the trail to ourselves, this was a wonderful hike seemingly bypassed by those aiming for the famous Trolltunga rock shelf nearby. We stayed at Trolltunga Studios (doubles from £70): best value and location to hit the trails in this beautiful part of Europe.
Georgia cave town
The ancient cave town of Uplistsikhe just outside Gori in Georgia is breathtaking. Manmade settlements don’t usually get me excited but this place is like no other. I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who managed to achieve such a feat in the fourth century. It’s an incredible demonstration of human capability and astoundingly peaceful. I visited at sunset and found a cave to perch in as I watched the sun fade behind the river below.
Undiscovered wildlife parks, Malawi
Malawi has never been a traditional safari destination, with few animals and a lot of poaching. However, African Parks, with Prince Harry’s support, have undertaken a translocation programme, moving animals, including 500 elephants, between game reserves. In addition, the British army has been training park rangers in skills to combat poaching. We stayed at Majete wildlife reserve, and Liwonde and Nyika national parks where often we were the only guests in the stylish lodges. We saw a variety of game, including the big five and enjoyed safaris on foot, by 4WD and boat along the Shire river.
Dar Blues ecolodge, High Atlas, Morocco
Nestled in beech trees by the Dades river, 25km up the Dades gorge from Boumalne Dades, is Dar Blues ecolodge. Our arrival in December was unsettling: it was night and the narrow, undulating track leading to the lodge wasn’t easy but Fatima greeted us warmly, and we instantly got a sense of homeliness from the traditional decor. By the next morning we were excited to explore. The rising sun cast striking shadows in the gorge and by 11am we were bathed in sunshine. The lodge was built by owner Mustapha on family-owned land, a testament to traditional architecture and age-old building methods. His family live on the opposite bank of the river, just visible through the trees. The interior is heated by a biomass boiler, which also provides the lodge’s hot water. We were served homemade yogurt and fruit salad, mainly apples and berries, sourced from further up the valley. For dinner there were avocado salads, local vegetables and a variety of chicken dishes. There’s easy access to the stunning gorge for hiking expeditions and road trips. With a 4WD vehicle a circular trip can be made that encompasses the better known Todra gorge too, returning via Boumalne Dades to Dar Blues.
Doubles from €90 half board, whole lodge (sleeps 17) €600, dar-blues.com
Zadar’s sea organ, Croatia
Designed by Croatian artist and architect Nikola Bašić, the sea organ is a permanent installation that melds nature and architecture in Zadar, one of Croatia’s quieter coastal cities. On the edge of town, where the earth meets the water, marble steps lead 70 metres down to the seafront. Underneath lies a network of pipes that form the organ, a musical instrument played by the sea itself. The movement of the waves pushes air through the 35 pipes to create a surround-sound experience, never the same two days in a row. The atmosphere is magical. Tourists and locals mingle, enjoying a close relationship with the sea. The feeling of peace is palpable. Like the rest of Zadar, a town where the modern architecture is built on and around the structures of its Illyrian, Venetian and Roman history, the sea organ is the perfect blend of urban planning and the natural environment. No video will do it justice, you have to visit to hear it for yourself.
Hiking in Slovenia
It was a revelation to hike in September through the blissfully empty Triglav national park in the Julian Alps. We scaled the trail which gets you to the top of the 600-metre knee-trembling Komarca wall and walked for three days through wonderfully diverse terrain, with ancient forest, crystal clear lakes and windswept plateaus. The sun shone, the birds sang. Cars and the outside world were light years away. We crashed in comfy walking huts which are log cabin in style, warm and where big bowls of hearty local food are served for €5 (think pearl barley stews with local sausages). Top all this off with grounded, friendly locals with an incredible sustainable ethos, and a swim in the placid Lake Bohinj at the end. I’ve never felt so alive.
Cedar Lake, Manitoba, Canada
Just north of Grand Rapids, I wouldn’t class this superb lake as the far, far north but it’s certainly sparsely populated and remote. The fishing here was just incredible with species like the large carnivorous muskellunge, northern pike and jumbo perch present in large numbers – even a beginner like myself caught plenty – but the scenery, too, is fantastic. Lots of woods interspersed with huge stretches of water. Anyone who likes boating and the outdoor life will love it here.
Penguin Island, Western Australia
This year we went to Perth to visit my grandfather. My sister begged us to all go to Penguin Island — just off Rockingham. There’s a large colony of the smallest variety of penguins there (little blue penguins) and a centre where they help injured birds get back to health. The best part about it, though, were the beaches – some wild with huge waves and others sheltered and quiet – which we had to ourselves. When we were finished at the beach we went on a walk around the island amid penguins, seals and pelicans.
Ferry from AUD$18 return ($27 including Discovery Centre)
Vegan burgers, Warsaw
Who knew Warsaw had such a huge vegan scene? My Airbnb was next to this fabulous vegan burger restaurant, Krowarzywa. Burgers start from about £3. You can add delicious homemade wedges too. This place is popular with locals and has a great atmosphere. The best burger is the Cieciorex, a mix of chickpeas, parsley, pepper and herbs.
Skiing in Bulgaria
I have been skiing since childhood but until recently always with the financial support of my parents. I now realise how expensive it is. But last February I was hunting around online and found an amazing deal to go skiing in Borovets in the Rila mountains. I’d never considered Bulgaria before. I went for five days, four nights. Half board at a four-star hotel, flights and transfers included, cost £180. The best surprise was how cheap everything was out there … it’s only a tiny town but the apres ski is amazing.
La Venencia, Madrid
A visit to La Venencia, a small sherry bar in the heart of Madrid, is certainly worth the price of the air fare. Three rules: no photographs (Franco’s spies may still be about – as they undoubtedly were the last time the walls were painted), no tipping (it offends the staff’s socialist principles) and no spitting. At €1.50 a glass, you can afford to sample the five types of sherry on offer, from the dry fino to the sweet oloroso, all of which are served from bottles regularly topped up from barrels behind the bar. Your bill is chalked up on the bar next to where you’re standing. Tapas are basic but you don’t come here for the food, you come here to get away from the tourists in the nearby Plaza de Santa Ana and savour a slice of what must surely be “old” Madrid.
Calle Echegaray, 7, 28014 Madrid
Chennai’s botanical gardens, India
A plethora of faces and a constant hum of voices was my lasting impression of Chennai. London seems almost like countryside in comparison! But the Semmozhi Poonga botanical gardens will leave you thinking you have walked straight into paradise. They are set in more than 20 acres of exotic flora and are staggeringly beautiful, including water, rock and butterly gardens and a “golden garden” where all the species are gold. When I visited in June they were virtually empty, a fantastic way to step out of the city hubbub for a couple of hours – and entrance costs 20p.